In the music video for Billie Jean by Michael Jackson one interesting effect I noticed is on a billboard which show three different pictures of two women. It looks like the pictures were added in post production as opposed physically existing like a billboard that was shown earlier (1:45). You can see this in the official YouTube video at the 2:07 mark.

I believe that the pictures were added in post production because they shake independently of the camera and they also switch to three different images without any noticeable jump cut or transition further suggesting that they were added in post production. I've created a gallery showing the three billboard images.

Another interesting thing is the image reminds me of a 256 or less color image because of the posterization effect suggesting perhaps that the images were digitally stored or that the effect was digital.

How could this effect have been achieved in 1983? Could they have used a Quantel Mirage (released in 1982)? I think that one supported a higher color depth so I'm surprised by the posterization unless it was intentional. I know other devices could do that effect but I wasn't able to confirm that they existed prior to the release of the music video. These include the Abekas A-51 and the Bosch FGS-4000.

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    Chroma key ... so called 'green screen' was invented in the early 20th century, and developed particularly in the 70's and 80's. The Empire Strikes Back made significant use of green screen and was released in 1980.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 23:04
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    @iandotkelly wow, how did I forget. They could have recorded the pictures at an angle. Much simpler. The posterization could have been added as an effect which was available back then and probably would have helped the chroma key. Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 23:10

1 Answer 1


In terms of the billboard, this is probably just Chroma Key, often called 'green screen' because it is one of the common colors used.

As you say in your comment, they probably shoot the pictures at the angle of the billboard and use chroma-key to project the image. This probably accounts for the small amount of unnatural shake you see.

I don't know how they specifically make the posterization effect.

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    Thinking this over it almost inevitably was a chroma key effect. I only noticed this now but there is some blue color spill on the bottom right corner was is very strong evidence in favor of your theory. This also seems more logical than using some expensive equipment for the simple effect. It also explains why both images independently shake. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 1:15
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    What would be the benefit of chroma key? I can’t see anything appearing in front of the billboards and they’re not an irregular shape, so wouldn’t it be easy to project the image no matter what was on the billboard during filming?
    – user82949
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 9:29
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    @user82949 Projecting it into the scene probably wouldn't have worked as-intended: the real-life scene with MJ would have been very well-lit, so any projected image would be washed out and with a low-contrast ratio (as it would be impossible to have a dark black colour). Whereas with chroma-keying: as it's added in post it wouldn't be affected by the lighting on-set.
    – Dai
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 11:01

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